07 Jul MO Absentee Voting, Immunity for Officers and Contest Winners
Welcome to the Newsletter
Rana Law Group Newsletter
In this issue:
- Missouri Absentee Voting
- Immunity for Public Employees, Including Police Officers
- Contest Winners
Missouri Absentee Voting
The governor signed into law Senate Bill 631, which permits absentee voting for individuals who have COVID-19 or are high risk. This applies to the year 2020 only and the requirement for a notary is waived if voting absentee for this reason. Normally, a person can only vote absentee if they will be prevented from going to the polls on election day. These ballots still need to be notarized if they are requested for a non-COVID 19 related reason. If you need a notary, my office has several available and we do not charge a fee. In fact, I spent part of my Fourth of July holiday renewing my notary since it expires later this month. I (re)learned a notary cannot charge a fee for notarizing a ballot. So, if you go elsewhere, make sure you do not get charged!
Immunity for Public Employees, Including Police Officers
Recently, calls to withdraw immunity for police officers are on the rise. Qualified immunity is a federal law that protects government officials from personal liability (money damages) as long as the official did not violate clearly established law. In Missouri, we have official immunity, which protects public employees from liability for negligence committed during the course of their official duties for the purpose of discretionary acts. Discretionary acts are ones where a public employee has to use their discretion, such as choosing to continue a police chase when trying to catch a fleeing motorist. A discretionary act is different than a ministerial act in that there is a distinct rule or guideline that must be followed, such as a police chase must be called off in the event the fleeing motorist crosses state lines. This distinction is important because the employee is not protected if they violate a ministerial act or if the act is committed with bad faith or malice. Of note, if an officer or employee is charged with a crime, immunity would not apply.
The US Supreme Court will likely take up the issue of qualified immunity next year. Proponents for immunity cite the following purposes for the law: (1) it decreases societal costs by reducing costly litigation in defending these cases; (2) official energy can be focused on pressing public issues rather than litigation; (3) citizens can accept public office without as much fear of litigation; and (4) the threat of a lawsuit could chill lawful law enforcement conduct. Proponents against qualified immunity cite the following reasons: (1) the Supreme Court exceeded its authority and went beyond just interpreting the statute, instead reading in inferences that are not there [the Supreme Court’s job is to determine if a law is unconstitutional only]; (2) it provides an absolute shield for law enforcement officers, allowing them to shoot first and think later, potentially leading to the perception that unreasonable conduct will go unpunished; and (3) it stunts the development of constitutional law, leaving unanswered questions because many of these issues are not taken up on appeal. This is important as it relates to new technologies or practices that were not contemplated at the time the Constitution was written.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the court decides to do in light of current events.
Thank you for all the wonderful stories sent in as a response to the last newsletter. I really enjoyed hearing about good news or attempts to look at the bright side during this period. Below are some of the best responses, as decided by staff. Three lucky winners will receive a $25 gift card to Amazon.
1) During this period, I appreciate the little things, like getting up even earlier to enjoy my coffee and alone time. My family is literally always around. – J.D.
2) The John Krazinski video gave me a big boost of energy. There is hope for mankind! – S.R.
3) Long walks through the neighborhood (our neighbors set up fairy houses under trees throughout the neighborhood for kids to look at on walks and it’s magical!) – A.S.